Finding a spiritual oasis

Finding a spiritual oasis – Not-For-Profit Report

Sandra Hoban

Even with the most dedicated, loving care, small victories are sometimes the best that can be hoped for in the long-term care environment. A resident with dementia may give an appropriate response to a question. Perhaps a nutritionally challenged resident may gain a little weight with a new diet plan. But generally, once someone is admitted to a long-term care setting, these small victories are the only validations caregivers might receive. Fatigue, discouragement, and emotional weariness often await on the downside.

In 2000, Lois Schonning, RN, parish nurse coordinator at Northfield Retirement Community in Northfield, Minnesota, along with other parish nurses and clergy in the community, developed Restore, Replenish, Renew–a community outreach program that reinvigorates the spiritual side of those who suffer from the stresses of prolonged caregiving.

“Restore, Replenish, Renew is an interfaith, nondenominational program from a Christian perspective,” Schonning explains. “This ecumenical service guides caregivers to a spiritual reawakening through inward reflection and community prayer.” Because of its initial success in 2000, it has become an annual event, celebrated within the first two weeks of May to coincide with National Hospital Week and National Nursing Home Week.

The service is held in the evening to allow more people to attend. According to Schonning, St. Dominic’s Church in Northfield has been a natural fit for the program–its atmosphere is conducive to reflection, and it is easily accessible to attendees. Restore, Replenish, Renew is open to the Northfield community and is advertised in area newspapers; hospital, LTC facility, and church bulletins; and, by that most effective medium, word of mouth.

The service lasts about an hour and a half and combines elements of inspirational messages, meaningful music, and caregiver involvement. “The first year, Dr. David Carlson, chaplain at Fairview Health Services, provided the motivational message explaining why the caregiver experiences profound weariness,” recalls Schonning. “His talk then shifted its focus to validating the caregiver’s worth. Since then, other clergy have delivered the message of spiritual renewal through advice, information on self-care, and encouragement.” Readings, psalms, and other prayers dedicated to those in the healthcare profession are also interspersed throughout the healing service.

Another critical component of the service is music. “Our harpist, Elinor Niemisto, recognizes the effects of music on pain, stress reduction, and mental illness,” says Schonning. She adds that while traditional hymns and songs such as “On Eagle’s Wings” are interspersed throughout the service, the musical options are unlimited, as evidenced by the prelude to the service, composed by a Northfield family practice physician.

One of the integral parts of Restore, Replenish, Renewis the Litany for Healing in which caregivers acknowledge their weariness: “We arrive at this place tired … worn … burned out … even weary of well-doing. We are encumbered with a load of care.” By recognizing the emotional toil extracted by their professions, participants meditate on the scripture readings presented. Near the end of the service, the gathering is invited to take part in the “anointing of hands,” an age-old tradition in which oil or myrrh is applied to the hands, while words of blessing are spoken by a minister, priest, or other clergy. Schonning explains that at least seven or eight clergy of various denominations are available to perform the blessing at the service.

Along with the general speaker and clergy, Schonning recommends involving other professional and nonprofessional caregivers as greeters and ushers, leaders of responsive litany and prayers, and servers at the fellowship hour following the service. This philosophy of inclusion emphasizes the joys and burdens that these individuals share ill whatever caregiving roles they play.

The fellowship hour, with refreshments, is held in the community room of St. Dominic’s. Mong with giving caregivers an opportunity to meet other area caregivers, the fellowship hour also provides a little pampering. “Several massage therapists are on hand to give relaxing neck and/or hand massages to anyone who is interested,” says Schonning. She adds that, last year, a storyteller and singer were brought into the therapy area to enhance the calming effects of the massage therapy.

Has Restore, Replenish, Renew accomplished its goal? Schonning thinks so, based on attendee feedback. “Right after our first service, one of the physicians came up to me and said, ‘I was dry as a desert. I didn’t really know how much I needed to get back in touch with myself.'” Further validation came when Schonning was in a local store the day after the service and overheard one attendee, an older woman caring for her husband at home, try to explain to someone the program she had been to the previous night and how much it helped her cope with her situation.

After seeing the results of spiritual renewal first-hand, Schonning and Parish Nurse Nancy Ludescher, BSN, concluded that all caregivers need an opportunity to refresh themselves spiritually. Together, they have written a protocol that gives any healthcare facility a basic outline to use for designing its own caregiver revitalization program. To date, Restore, Replenish, Renew protocols have been requested by communities and facilities in the Dakotas, Washington, Florida, and a Mennonite community in Glendale, Arizona.

For more information, contact Lois Schonning, RN, Northfield Retirement Community Parish Nurse Coordinator, at (507) 645-9511, fax (507) 645-0117, or visit To comment on this article, please send e-mail to

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